What is trauma?
Trauma can result from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances. It is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening and has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being. It can have wide reaching effects on a child, including their learning and behavior at school. Conversely, some children who are suffering may show few signs and be quiet, meaning their needs go unnadressed.
School performance and learning indicators
- Inconsistent / changes in academic performance
- Higher rate of school absences
- More suspensions or exclusions
- Difficulties with concentration, memory and cognition
- Reduced ability to focus, organise and process information
- Lower reading ability and/or language skills
- Difficulties with effective problem solving, organisational skills and/or planning ability
- Lack of attention / concentration
- Increased activity levels
- Social withdrawal
- Angry outbursts / aggression
- Irritability with others and/or events
- Increase in unpredictable, impulsive and/or risk-taking behaviours
- Over- or under-reacting to sudden movements or sounds (e.g. physical contact, bells, sirens and slamming doors)
- Difficulties interpreting and responding appropriately to social cues
- Difficulties interacting and responding to authority and/or criticism
- Increased risk of or actual substance abuse (e.g. alcohol and drugs)
Source: Lancashire Violence Reduction Network ‘post COVID19 trauma informed guidance for schools’
Education Scotland developed guidance based on the Adverse Childhood Experience study
They suggest a whole school focus on well-being, social emotional learning, and school wide strategies for building resilience, alongside targeted support for individual students. They believe it is important to balance highlighting negative outcomes of adverse experiences, with evidence on the impact of a resilience building approach.
Picture Source: Education Psychology Service Hub
Suggestions for whole school approach
- Changes to a child’s usual conduct or performance can be a sign of trauma. Promote understanding within the school about the connections between emotions and behaviour. It is possible that changes can be misinterpreted as ‘bad behaviour’ or ‘laziness’.
- Whilst it is important to protect and respect privacy, it can be useful when information is shared with school staff who have contact with a child. This can then make sure that they are aware that the child has experienced trauma and anticipate the child may experiencing difficulties (e.g. concentrating, controlling emotions and/or performing academically).
Suggestions for targeted support
- It is important that there is a strengths based formulation for assessment and planning, that focuses on what has happened to an individual, rather than what is wrong with them.
- Attachment to teachers has been shown to link strongly to behaviour, attainment and other positive outcomes.
- Modify teaching strategies. As identified, routine and structure are important to promote a sense of safety and security; however, you can support students by rescheduling tests, or adapting classwork, especially work that is going to require sustained concentration or energy.
In order to help others, we need to look after ourselves. Compassion fatigue; when emotional and/or physical exhaustion leads to a diminished ability to empathise or feel compassion, can make it difficult for staff to focus on the child's needs. It is also important to recognise that staff may have been directly, or indirectly affected by the COVID19 pandemic, or their own personal circumstance, and may be responding to, or coping with their own trauma, or second hand trauma.
Some suggestions and tips for supporting staff include:
- Prioritise staff wellbeing, and provide space within the working environment to take breaks and promote rest.
- Facilitate time for staff to share their experiences and have a safe nurturing environment in which to do this.
- If appropriate, support staff to seek further help from an outside agency who are knowledgeable about trauma, such as a counsellor or psychologist.